Illustration by Angela Williams

Rachel Kim, our former education editor,  and Ashvini Kartik-Narayan, one of our current education editors, collaborated to hold South Side Weekly’s second student essay contest this summer. The theme for the contest was inspired by Chicago native Nate Marshall’s poem, “When I Say Chicago.” We asked students: What do you mean when you say Chicago? We wanted to hear how students “find, define, build, and maintain a sense of community in Chicago”: their answers, penned during a pandemic and a summer of immense racial injustice against Black people, were especially poignant. 

We received over fifteen submissions from all over the South Side. We are extremely grateful for all of these submissions and for the time, energy, and care students put into writing them during a time of unbelievable stress, pain, and uncertainty. There were so many incredible, thoughtful essays, each offering a different view of what makes Chicago so beautiful and so special. In the end, we chose three essays to print. Read the other two: “I’m From Chicago” and “What do you mean when you say Chicago?”


When I say Chicago, I mean its violence. The chaos that crowds our broken, discombobulated streets and sidewalks every day. Riots that cry and wail for justice, flames that clog the throats of our activists. Torn up neighborhoods and families, hiding from the wars that yet again lead to dismay. Fear of a contagious disease, the world enslaved in hell with the walls closing in on them. Innocent people murdered for their color, massacred for their strength. 

Sometimes, being here is disappointing. What people have done to “justify” other cruel actions. To steal from those who need what they have is not making anything right. You’re just as much of a criminal. 

When I say Chicago, I mean its beauty. Leaders engaging with their community to help lead a land for the free. Our people are together to bring life during these trying times. Angels give a helping hand to people in need. Despite the despair and pure loss of hope, we pursue our passions that blow millions away! Perhaps that’s why we call ourselves the ‘“Windy City.” The cool breeze of color paints our world, and it’s gorgeous inside and out. 

When I say Chicago, I mean its reliability. Workers come in day after day to provide for their city. Professionals push themselves to guarantee the security of this city’s citizens. Policymakers write the rules to restrict downfall. Organizations help contribute to the villages of low-income. Several of the gifted voluntarily open their wings. Commanders are cautious of their actions that affect their residents. 

When I say Chicago, I mean its connection to me. Due to being here my whole life, this city is a part of me. Most of my family stay near or around me. The artistic societies I wish to take part in motivated me to be who I am today. Even though I grew up here and have seen practically nowhere else, I still ache for change. The gunshots that go off in the night. Cries of more victims, making it hard to keep friends. Reaching out for help and being rejected. Feeling this horrid, pitiful feeling for the ones I’ve lost. Chicago has shown me a lot. Of course, some are dreadful and some sweet. But, this is the place where I got to decide who I wanted to be. And I’m so very appreciative of that. 

When I say Chicago, I mean its people. Groups that assist the poor, and the poor that are beneficial to the rich. Those that choose to lead to the light or pull followers into their darkness they emit. A separation between the races that aren’t fully intentional. An absent sense of order as stores come to a close from the fear of their people. Patients clinging to their lives, fighting for the ones they love. Our people are strong but easily misled. Which brings me to the conclusions I’ve made over the years. The people of this city are a complex blend, and that’s one of the many reasons that I still have some love left. Everything here is diverse and different. All communities support one another and live together in an attempt to harmonize. When I think of Chicago, I think of the sacrifices many have made. And I just want to say, thank you. Without you, many would be lost. So please, keep going. What you’re doing is making life so much easier to deal with right now. I appreciate you all in all you do. So, thank you. Continue to stay safe. You’re doing great! Remember that many love you all for what you do. I couldn’t feel more blessed. We could have better, but that’s something we’ll earn. Stay strong Chicago, and stand tall. 


Angela Williams is a student at Richard T. Crane Medical Prep High School. She is a 16-year-old aspiring visual artist whose passion comes from the stars above. She can be found on Twitter at @starcanbe, and on Instagram at @starcanreallybe. She runs an online t-shirt store at She is one of three winners of the South Side Weekly 2020 Student Essay Contest. This is her first contribution to the Weekly, and she is hoping to grow more with the Weekly in the future. 


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